Local police offer help to victims of stalking

Posted: January 23, 2013

The Winchester Star

Winchester Police Chief Kevin Sanzenbacher and Lt. Amanda Ritter listen during a news conference at the Frederick County Public Safety Building Tuesday where new stalking kits were introduced.
KC Bohrer of the Frederick County Sheriff's Office holds a kit that contains items for gathering, preserving and documenting stalking cases. The kits were introduced during a news conference Tuesday. (Photo by Jeff Taylor/The Winchester Star)
Melissa Nilsen, domestic violence prevention coordinator at the Laurel Center in Winchester, speaks during the news conference. In the background is Lauren Cummings, Winchester Police Department spokeswoman, and Bohrer.

WINCHESTER — Local law enforcement is taking a step to further protect victims of stalking.

At a press conference on Tuesday, safety kits for victims of stalking were introduced by representatives of The Laurel Center, Winchester Police Department and Frederick County Sheriff’s Office.

The kits include powder-free exam gloves to handle evidence, evidence bags and brochures with information about stalking and where victims can go for help.

The bags will be made available at The Laurel Center and local police departments, including the Clarke County Sheriff’s Office, and will be handed out to victims of stalking after they file a report.

About 6.6 million people each year in the U.S. are victims of stalking, according to the Stalking Resource Center.

“Every year it’s increasing,” said Investigator KC Bohrer with the Frederick County Sheriff’s Office. “The statistics here follow the national trend.”

In 2012, The Laurel Center — which serves victims of domestic and sexual violence in Winchester and Frederick and Clarke counties — served 30 stalking victims and assisted in getting nine protective orders.

Twelve stalking complaints were reported in Frederick County in 2012.

In Winchester, at least one complaint of stalking was reported, and it’s possible that there were other complaints that came into dispatch as “intimidation” or “harassment,” according to spokeswoman Lauren Cummings.

The numbers, however, don’t tell the whole story: Many instances of stalking don’t get reported.

“People are embarrassed, or they hope it goes away, or they handle it themselves,” said Capt. Al Sibert with Frederick County.

Stalking is a crime in all 50 states. In Virginia, it is a Class 1 misdemeanor to engage in conduct directed at another person or that person’s family with the intent to place them in reasonable fear of death, criminal sexual assault or bodily injury.

If explicit threats to kill or do bodily injury to a person or their family are committed, then the crime becomes a Class 6 felony.

Depending on the facts of the case, a stalker might also be charged with other crimes, such as trespassing, intimidation of a witness and breaking and entering.

In one out of every five cases, stalkers use a weapon to threaten or harm their victim.

One in six women and one in 19 men have experienced stalking during their lifetime in which they felt fearful that they or someone close to them would be harmed or killed, according to the Stalking Resource Center.

“Stalking is not a 9-to-5 type of thing,” said Melissa Nilsen, domestic violence prevention coordinator at The Laurel Center. “It’s all day, 365 days a year. It never stops.”

The kit will give information and evidence to law enforcement that will make it easier for them to pursue a case.

According to Bohrer, many victims don’t know to collect evidence or what is considered evidence, such as flowers or a note.

“We may need that note [to establish] a pattern or for science for DNA or fingerprints,” he said.

Donations for the kits are being accepted by The Laurel Center. Please write “stalking” in the memo section of the check. Checks can be made out to The Laurel Center and mailed to The Laurel Center, c/o Donna Carpenter, P.O. Box 14, Winchester, Va. 22601.

— Contact Rebecca Layne at rlayne@winchesterstar.com